Should You Write a Long-Copy Ad or Keep it Short?

Should you write a long or short ad? The truth is, the reason people read ads has nothing to do with copy length.

Okay, you’re ready to write the ad of a lifetime. The one that will pull like crazy and leave them begging for your product like Somalians for food. So, do you whet their appetite with a short and sweet ad? Or write a long-copy ad that’s stuffed with information?

The 80-20 rule says 80% of the people only read the headline (and maybe a caption, if you have one). But the fact is, readers will read a long-copy ad. One McGraw-Hill study looked at 3,597 ads in 26 business magazines. What they discovered was that ads with 300 or more words were more effective that shorter ads in creating product awareness, inducing action and reinforcing the decision to buy. Another ad for Merrill Lynch crammed 6, 450 words into a single New York Times page. It pulled over 10,000 responses—even without a coupon! The truth is, the reason people read ads has nothing to do with copy length.

“Nobody reads long ads…” and other urban ad legends

People shun too many of today’s ads—long or short—because several misleading myths have stubbornly remained with us. Things like “negative headlines are a downer since people want to feel good when reading your ad.” Or “show the product or they’ll never know what you’re selling.” Then there’s the stuffy axiom, “there’s no place for humor in business advertising. “ Or the ubiquitous saw, “all your ads should look the same, blend in or be swallowed up.” The list goes on and on. Presented with unabashed hubris by the high priests of advertising. The basic fact is, ads really fail for three reasons.

Your ads are all about you

You’re telling customers what you want to hear, not what they want to know. Impressive sounding features are fine to motivate your sales force, but your customer is only interested in one thing: “What’s in it for me?” This offense is particularly egregious in business-to-business advertising, which is infamous for its addiction to phrases like “the XP90 does it all” or “now with Duo-Pentium Processor”—without a hint of what these features do. Also contaminating many of today’s ads are such chest-pounding headlines as “Taking the lead,” “The promise of tomorrow, today,” or “A tradition of quality.” They sound good but say nothing.

Your ads are boring

You’ve got to break the boredom barrier—big time. Many ad gurus say blend in, be one of the pack and survive. No wonder so many ads look alike, proudly showing big pictures of their products, or worse yet, featuring a giant photo of the company’s CEO—usually with a caption that’s been scrubbed clean of originality or compelling information. If you want people to stop and read your ad, you have to make the ad more interesting than the editorials in the publication you’re in. Give them real news, a fresh new way to look at what you’re offering them. Stand out from the crowd. Start trends, don’t follow them. One of the most interesting car ads I ever saw showed the car only sparingly; instead, it featured an animation of a human heart beating furiously to the soundtrack of an accelerating engine. Breakthrough stuff.

Your ads don’t make human contact

They’re not reaching readers on an emotional level. We all want to be liked, appreciated and loved. We want to feel secure in our lives and our jobs. So be a mensch. Create ads that touch the soul. Use an emotional appeal in your visual, headline and copy. Don’t just show a car on the road; show the guy captivating his sweetheart with the car. If your buyers were on the moon, would they care about your car’s styling? No. They’d get an ugly, crawly vehicle that got them from crater to crater. Selling computers to business? Show the guy getting a raise or promotion for selecting your latest model. You’re selling the emotional end result, the human need-based bottom line, not a box, or vehicle with four wheels and an engine.

So if you’re struggling with the notion of whether to write a long- or short-copy ad, you can do both and still get results. The key is not length or lack of it, but information, interest and involvement in your customer’s needs. These are the ingredients to creating a successful ad.


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